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Will Badart

Santa Barbara, California is a quiet beach town and tech hub, surfer’s paradise, and hiker’s delight. This Central Coast city is many things to many people, but above all else, Santa Barbara is my top recommendation for a campervan adventure between Escape’s Los Angeles and San Francisco rental locations.

We’ve talked before about camping and hiking in and around Santa Barbara, in a previously published blog post. Today, we’ll turn our attention back to the city and explore the beaches, restaurants, and things to do around town.

Dusk on a campervan adventure

Beaches That Are Perfect For A Campervan Adventure

Santa Barbara County is home to miles upon miles of world-class beaches. If you’re approaching from the north, consider El Capitan State Beach as your first stop. The park’s campgrounds feature spots that can accommodate a van, and include shady wooded areas where you can take breaks from your sunbathing.

For an approach from the south, consider Rincon Beach. Halfway between Ventura and Santa Barbara, Rincon beach features miles of RV and van parking and some of the best surfing on the Central Coast (though beginners to the sport should read on as the high surf and rocky shore at Rincon make for risky learning conditions).

Between Ventura and Santa Barbara, you’ll also find Carpinteria, a small beach town with a charming main drag and miles of not-too-crowded, warm, sandy beaches. (Craft beer geeks: check out Carpinteria’s Island Brewing Company. I personally recommend the Avocado Honey Ale!)

Once in Santa Barbara proper, your options only increase. In the dead center of Santa Barbara’s waterline sits the Pier, with East Beach to one side and West Beach to the other. Both are very wide, even at high tide, and feature beach volleyball courts, bike paths, van-sized parking spaces, and views of boats coming in and out of the harbor (especially West Beach).

View of the beach on a campervan adventure

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Head West For Some Other Family-Friendly Beaches

Continuing west, you have Leadbetter Beach, Shoreline Park, and 1000 Steps Beach. 1000 Steps Beach is notable for its winding staircase from the street up on the Mesa down to the water (though I’ve climbed it, and don’t think it’s quite 1000 steps). While you’re up on the Mesa, be sure to plan a picnic at La Mesa Park, a popular spot for families in the Mesa neighborhood known for its epic ocean vista. Catch a sunset from here if you can!

On the other side of the Mesa from downtown, you’ll find Arroyo Burro Beach. Dog owners (and lovers) take note: the east half of Arroyo Burro is a very popular off-leash dog beach. Arroyo Burro also features usually-calm surf for boogie boarders and surfers alike, as well as the Boathouse restaurant. While parking is fairly easy during the week, be prepared to either arrive early or walk from the adjacent neighborhood Friday through Sunday. I guarantee yours will be far from the only converted van you see at Arroyo Burro!

If you find the beaches in town too crowded for your liking, try Goleta Beach Park. Located just down the hill from UCSB, Goleta Beach is a popular surf spot for students, but you can often have the place to yourself during the summer.

Kitchen of a campervan

Places To Eat During Your Campervan Adventure

To feed yourself during these long days at the beach, make sure to pack your fishing pole. Or, consider one of these local favorites:

For fast-casual burgers, you can’t go wrong with Santa Barbara’s own The Habit. This small chain has delicious standard burger fare, as well as some interesting sides like sweet potato fries and fried green beans (with ranch, of course). If you go to the State Street location, you’re just a couple of doors up from another Santa Barbara staple, McConnel’s Ice Cream. Keep your eyes out for seasonal flavors!

Food during a campervan adventure

For Mexican, close your eyes, walk 100 paces, and chances are good you’ll find yourself at a fantastic, authentic Mexican joint. Which is to say, you have a lot of options. Right off State Street, you have Lilly’s Taqueria, a local favorite. Head several blocks east to the Milpas area, and you’ll find La Super-Rica Taqueria, home to some of the most delicious, authentic tacos and tamales north of the border. Split the difference, and you’re at East Beach Tacos, a personal favorite. This walk-up taco stand is adjacent to a batting cage facility and features specials like “The Triple Play:” mix and match three different tacos for under $10.

Finally, if you’ve got a van full of people with different tastes, head up to the Santa Barbara Public Market. This upscale food court features sushi, tacos, Korean fusion, one of the best sports bars in town, and more.

Other Fun Activities And Things To Do

Unquestionably Santa Barbara’s most iconic landmark, the Santa Barbara Mission is just up the hill from the rest of town, and features guided tours, a beautiful rose garden, and an unbeatable ocean view, particularly at sunrise. It’s also a stone’s throw away from Santa Barbara’s Botanic Gardens and Natural History Museum (the latter is impossible to miss; a giant dinosaur skeleton guards the entry).

Dog on a campervan adventure

Another historic site offering unique views of the town and ocean is the Courthouse. Yes, it is an active place of law, but there’s public access to old courtrooms with murals of California’s history, and the clock tower, inside of which you can see the workings of the giant clock, and atop which you can see all of downtown for 360 degrees.

Santa Barbara is also home to an extensive zoo, situated practically across the street from East Beach. The parks surrounding it are equally expansive, providing ample space for picnics, slacklining, or just lounging in the sun.

Finally, if the sea is calling you, consider sailing out to the Channel Islands. Numerous companies in and around town offer chartered rides out to each island. The camping and hiking scene on Santa Cruz island is sure to appeal to you van dwellers, though you’ll need to leave the van behind for this excursion.

Book A Campervan And Head To Santa Barbara

Between this post and part 1 of our Santa Barbara campervan adventure,  I hope I’ve painted an enticing picture of Santa Barbara and the Central Coast for van-based adventurers. With its extensive options for camping, hiking, beaches, food, and activities, Santa Barbara has something for everyone. Check out the numerous offerings from Escape’s Los Angeles depot and book a campervan for your Santa Barbara adventure today!

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